Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

March 2000
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A Model of Planned Change – Part 3

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

In “Leading Change,” John Kotter presents an eight-stage model of planned change. This Letter examines the third stage of the model.

3. Develop a Compelling Vision and Strategy.

Leaders are responsible for formulating and articulating a compelling vision that will guide the change effort, and for developing the strategies for achieving that vision. A “picture” of a highly desirable future motivates people to change.

A good vision serves three important purposes:

1. By clarifying the general direction for change, it simplifies hundreds of more detailed decisions. One simple question – is this in line with the vision? – can eliminate much discussion. Moreover, all available people and resources can be mobilized in the same direction.

2. It motivates people to take action in the right direction, even if the first steps require sacrifice and are personally painful.

3. It helps align and coordinate the actions of many different people in a fast and efficient way. With clarity of vision, constituents can determine what to do for themselves without constantly checking with their superior or peers.

An effective vision has six characteristics. It is:

1. Imaginable. It conveys a picture of what the future could look like. The vision must be ambitious enough to force people out of their comfort zones. The God we serve created the universe; He can do great things!

2. Desirable. It appeals to the long-term interests of most of the organization’s stakeholders. In contrast, poor visions tend to ignore the legitimate interests of some groups, or to exploit other groups.

3. Realistic. Good visions are not “pie-in-the-sky” fantasies with no chance of realization. Christian leaders must be careful not to let a cavalier “all things are possible with God” attitude to substitute for a legitimate vision that is, at once, faith-filled yet realistic. Moreover, good visions will take advantage of fundamental trends. Finally, to be realistic, the vision should be linked to the core competencies of the organization.

4. Focused. Good visions are clear enough to motivate action. They should not be vague or ambiguous.

5. Flexible. Good visions must be flexible enough to allow initiative. Bad visions are sometimes too specific or do not allow for modification. As the change proceeds, the vision itself will often change! So it must be flexible to begin with.

6. Communicable. An effective vision can be explained successfully within five minutes. Unintelligible visions are ineffective. The trumpet must sound a clear and compelling call.

In creating an effective vision, there are certain steps that can profitably be followed:

1. First idea. The process often starts with an initial statement from a single individual, reflecting his or her dreams as well as real organizational needs or opportunities.

2. Role of the guiding coalition. The first idea is then modified over time by the guiding coalition or by another larger group of stakeholders. Teamwork is vital to this process.

3. Role of the head and the heart. Both analytic thinking and a lot of prayerful “dreaming” are essential throughout the activity. Think, dream, be creative! You may be stuck in a rut, but God is not. He is the ultimate Creator of new opportunities!

4. Role of prayer and the Word of God. Discerning the will of God must be the central theme in the process. He will bless His vision; He may or may not bless yours!

5. Role of relevant elements in the old ideology. Even when radical change is necessary in an organization, some elements in the current way may be worthy of preservation. Sometimes traditional values that were subverted or ignored will serve as the basis for the new (albeit old) vision.

6. Messiness of the process. Vision creation is usually a process of two steps forward and one step back, movement to the left and then to the right.

7. Time frame. Vision is never created in a single sitting, but takes months, sometimes years.

8. End product. A good vision is never finished but is continually assessed and refined to reflect the current understanding of God’s perfect will for the organization.

The next Leadership Letter will describe the fourth stage of implementing change: communicate the change vision widely.

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